Bike commuting to work – and to any other destination – is becoming more necessary, especially in large, urban environments. Knowing the associated dangers is a must.
Knowing how to anticipate and avoid those collisions will make bike commuting a much more comfortable, profitable, and healthy experience.
Dangers of Bike Commuting
Three of the main causes for injury when riding a bike are:
- Not being visible to drivers.
- Not obeying the traffic laws of the road.
- Riding in the door zone.
How to Be Safe When Bike Commuting
Motorists may notice some cyclists opt to ride on sidewalks, rather than in the street where cars come and go. In many locations that is illegal.
Though U.S. bicycle traffic laws are not mandated by a federal authority, U.S. states and cities do establish laws related to where bicycles are allowed, as demonstrated by the following ordinance of Tucson, Ariz.
Section 5-2 of the City of Tucson Bicycle Traffic Laws reads as: “It is unlawful to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk or pedestrian path unless a sign says it is permitted.”
Each cyclist is responsible for knowing the laws that pertain to his particular city and/or state.
Common Sense Bicycle Safety
Riding a bike on a sidewalk creates a danger to pedestrians and the bike commuter. Pedestrians can unknowingly step into a cyclist’s path from business and residential doors and intersecting walkways — and from many other blind spots.
One of the most dangerous places for the cyclist who rides on the sidewalk: the crosswalk.
Vehicles passing through an intersection or making a right turn around the corner where a sidewalk-cyclist intends to ride are not expecting to encounter a relatively high-speed “pedestrian” cruising across their lane. Drivers are not anticipating a bike commuter to shoot off of a curb, using the crosswalk.
Riding in the street, courteously to the side of the lane that flows with traffic – that is the right side in the U.S. and some other countries, and left side in other countries, such as Great Britain – while maintaining a safe distance from the curb and any debris in the gutter – such as broken glass that can puncture a bike’s tire – is the only proper way to make sure all auto drivers have the chance to see you.
Obeying the rules of the road as a bike commuter includes stopping at red lights and stop signs. It means affording drivers who have the right of way to take it. And it means confidently, assertively accepting the right of way when it is yours.
Drivers respect bike commuters who act with decisive confidence, cyclists who show they know the rules and know they are entitled to space on the road. Use it respectfully.
Beware Bike Riding in the Door Zone
If living in an urban area, one needs to note that cars often park along sides of streets, and often in parallel directions with doors that, when opened, must swing into the bike riding lane.
A bike commuter who rides too closely to a line of parked cars risks one of the most common accidents, one that can result in serious injuries: A driver unknowingly opens his car door as a cyclist approaches.
The resulting crash can injure both parties, damage the bicycle and the car. It is easy to prevent.
Always be mindful of this potential hazard. Look for people sitting in cars that are parked ahead of you along the road. Ride far enough left of parked cars to avoid the situation.
But do not forget that auto traffic may be passing on your left. So do not swerve from a parked car, only to ride into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
The benefits of bike commuting undoubtedly include that it’s economical and healthy – as long as it’s done safely. It’s also environmentally friendly.